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GCN : October and November 2016
When virtual reality and augmented reality meet government analytics BY MICHAEL THOMAS INDUSTRY INSIGHT IT’S BEEN AN AMAZING YEAR for virtual and aug- mented reality. Often the techno-turf of gamers, this technology has potential that far outstrips any single industry or application. At the heart of the technology is data — spe- cifically the innovative and immersive presentation of that data. So who better to benefit from the technology than the U.S. government, one of the world’s largest collectors and custodians of big data? For those unfamiliar with the technology, virtual real- ity and augmented reality allow users to immerse themselves in a digital world or supplement the real world with digital images, respectively. And the capabilities are rap- idly gaining steam. Spring 2016 saw two major VR hardware releases with the launch of HTC Vive and the crowdfunded Oculus Rift. But nothing created quite as much stir as the release of the Pokémon Go AR mobile game in July. How do those advance- ments offer opportunities for government? Increas- ingly, agencies have gained enhanced insights by ap- plying analytics technology to their data collections. Capabilities such as live- stream processing, visual analytics and text mining have enabled the govern- ment to act on a constantly updated knowledge of evolving situations. Agen- cies can churn through mil- lions of events per second and display insights and trends gained from that data in an accessible and visual format. The government is already applying those ana- lytics to prevent benefits and medical fraud, evaluate workforce trends, organize defense supply chains and comb social media for ter- rorist threats. But VR and AR could lead to even more immediate and immersive insights into unfolding situations. By using VR and AR hardware and software to look at the information pro- duced by visual analytics programs, the government could instantly map data into a representation inside a virtual environment. For example, adopt- ers in the defense and intelligence space could complement ground force GPS tracking data with a near-real-time display of the troops on the ground. Commanders could have an immediate familiarity not only with troop move- ments but with the type of terrain they are moving through, the route ahead and a plethora of other information that can only be obtained from an eyes- on-the-ground view. That hands-on informa- tion would also be vital for homeland security organi- zations that are coordinat- ing emergency response in the wake of disasters by allowing them to prioritize the areas most in need of assistance. On the civilian side, analytics-infused VR could inform decisions that have the potential to save millions of dollars a year. Health agencies could use the combination of VR and analytics to drive improved outcomes from telehealth visits. Instead of conducting a telehealth consultation via a telephone or video call, doctors could interact with their patients in a virtual reality environment, overlaid with a display that provides the physician with relevant population or per- sonal health statistics that could inform treatment. Applying VR or AR technology to analytics- informed data could also help the Census Bureau save money on the decen- nial headcount by reducing the amount of in-person canvassing. Combining census data and geospatial data would give census tak- ers the information to zero in on the households they need to contact. The applications for analytics-infused virtual or augmented reality are as limitless as the creativity of the agency wielding them. Agencies should begin con- sidering how this emerging technology could help them approach their mission from a fresh perspective. The combination of analytics and AR/VR will allow them to tackle new and existing challenges in a more informed and efficient manner — ultimately sav- ing money, time and maybe even lives. And that might be the coolest reality of all. • — Michael Thomas is a software architect at SAS. Combining analytics and AR/VR will allow agencies to tackle challenges more efficiently — saving money, time and maybe even lives. 28 GCN OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2016 • GCN.COM 1116gcn_028.indd 28 10/5/16 9:52 AM
August and September 2016
January and February 2017